Working With Lat Long, Numeric Data

Sorry that October has obviously been a pretty weak month for posts. I’ve been driven to distraction lately and haven’t done much GIS related work.

I was working on a project this week that involved manipulating data tables, so I thought I’d share a couple tips here. A number of months ago I wrote a post about manipulating FIPS codes and text-based ID fields. But what if you have to manipulate numeric fields? Adding decimal places, zeros, etc? The answer is – math!

In one field, I had a population figure from the 1970 Census that had been rounded to the hundreds place, so it was listed like this:

Bronx    14718

I wanted to make this a little more explicit by adding the appropriate zeros, so in Excel (or Calc if you prefer) I created a formula to multiply this by 100 =(c2*100) to get the full number with zeros:

Bronx    1471800

I also had fields with latitude and longitude coordinates in decimal degrees, but they lacked decimal points. The longitude field also lacked the minus sign, which means if we plotted the points they would end up in Asia instead of North America (longitude east of the dateline and west of the prime meridian is notated as negative in decimal degrees, as is latitude south of the equator). I knew from the metadata that each coordinate pair was precise to four decimal places, and I knew all of my points were in North America. So I created a formula where I took the latitude and divided by ten thousand =(c3/10000) and took the longitude, divided by ten thousand and multiplied by -1 =((c4/10000)*-1). Here’s the before and after:

Bronx    408492    738800

Bronx    40.8492    -73.8800

Some of this may seem pretty obvious, but if you’re used to working with text-based ID fields all of the time (like I am), it’s easy to forget that all you need is simple math to fix number fields.

The last step I took was to check for null values. A few of my data points had 0,0 listed for lat and long, because coordinate data was missing for those particular places. The problem is that 0 IS a value! If we plotted this data, these points would show up where the equator and prime meridian meet below western Africa. You have to represent “no data” as a blank value or null, and not as a zero. I fixed those, plotted, and was good to go.

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